Los Angeles FC, of course, will make MLS a 23-team league next year when they join the Western Conference backed by numerous high-profile investors and with a coach and star player already secured in Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela respectively.
LAFC have made few moves beyond the one that will see Vela join them as a designated player so far, but the expansion draft will offer them an opportunity to fatten their roster.
Or will it?
It’s kind of been assumed that an expansion draft will take place again, as it did for Atlanta and Minnesota United last year, New York City and Orlando City in 2014 and many other new clubs before that.
But there has been precious little talk of how that potential draft will be organized since MLS executive vice-president of player relations Todd Durbin said it was his expectation that one would be held for LAFC last December.
There is mention of it in this story on the MLS website from September, but whether that is confirmed information or an assumption is not clear.
If MLS is weighing up whether to hold an expansion draft or not, it is not difficult to imagine why. Even with rules that left the league’s existing clubs with some difficult decisions to make last year, neither Atlanta nor Minnesota directly gained much in the way of first-team players from their five picks apiece.
Here’s a recap of what happened:
- Atlanta pick Donny Toia, who they trade to Orlando for a SuperDraft pick (Julian Gressel).
- Minnesota pick Chris Duvall, who they trade to Montreal for Johan Venegas and allocation money.
- Atlanta pick Zach Loyd, who they keep. Loyd, 30, has made zero MLS appearances this season.
- Minnesota pick Collen Warner, who they keep. Warner, 29, has made 21 MLS appearances this season (10 starts).
- Atlanta pick Clint Irwin, who they trade back to Toronto for Mark Bloom and allocation money.
- Minnesota pick Mohammed Saeid, who plays three MLS games for them before they trade him with Josh Gatt and an international slot to Colorado for Marc Burch.
- Atlanta pick Mikey Ambrose, who they keep. Ambrose, 23, has made five MLS appearances (one start) this season.
- Minnesota pick Jeff Attinella, who they trade to Portland for a SuperDraft pick in 2018 and the rights to Miguel Ibarra, who they sign.
- Atlanta pick Alec Kann, who they keep. Kann, 27, has made 18 MLS appearances (all starts) this season.
- Minnesota pick Femi Hollinger-Janzen, who they trade back to New England for Bobby Shuttleworth.
To summarize, Atlanta have kept three of their five players from the expansion draft. Loyd has not played and will be gone at the end of the year, Ambrose is reasonable, cheap depth and Kann was their goalkeeper until Brad Guzan arrived.
Minnesota have kept one player (Warner), who has been veteran depth.
They gained far more in terms of assets: Atlanta’s deal to flip Toia to Orlando and turn him into the probable Rookie of the Year (Gressel) stands out in particular, though it required a degree of skill and luck in the draft.
But could any of the deals listed above not been done with allocation money alone? Was there really much to be gained in disrupting the offseasons of 20 other clubs rather than just nudging up the cash resources the two expansion sides had to work with?
Maybe the Toia and Duvall picks brought marginal added value and flexibility, but that’s about it.
So maybe it will happen, or maybe it won’t. Figuring out who might be at risk in an expansion draft is always interesting, though, so I’m going to plough on ahead regardless.
Let’s assume that the rules are the same as they were last year, and Toronto can protect 11 players and lose only one. That could change given this is a one-team draft, but it didn’t for the Montreal Impact in 2011.
Homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected and at least three international players must be protected.
Not requiring protection
Sergio Camargo, Jay Chapman, Jordan Hamilton, Ashtone Morgan and Ben Spencer are all homegrown players on the supplemental or reserve roster, and therefore do not require protection.
(How Spencer counts as a homegrown player and Raheem Edwards does not - search me.)
Alex Bono did not require protection last year as a Generation Adidas player, but he will almost certainly graduate that program this offseason and therefore be eligible for the expansion draft.
Protected: Camargo, Chapman, Hamilton, Morgan, Spencer
Certain to be protected
We can start with the designated players: Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. LAFC have the financial means to take one of them and either (a) keep them or (b) extort a massive return out of TFC to trade them back.
Add in Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Marky Delgado and Bono, all of whom are valuable core pieces who would walk into most MLS lineups.
That’s eight slots used already and we’re just getting started. This is going to hurt.
Protected: Giovinco, Bradley, Altidore, Vazquez, Mavinga, Morrow, Delgado, Bono, Camargo, Chapman, Hamilton, Morgan, Spencer
Could be protected
The good news is that this year Toronto will not need to protect an international player they might otherwise leave exposed (though Tsubasa Endoh’s stock was higher last year than it is now and he may have been protected anyway). Giovinco, Vazquez and Mavinga meet the quota there.
That’s not going to ensure, however, that they can protect everyone they would like to protect.
It would be tough to stomach the loss of a young talent like Edwards even if he is not yet a regular starter, so I can’t see him not being protected.
But TFC would also hate to give up two centre-backs that look likely to be long-term starters in Eriq Zavaleta and Nick Hagglund, both of whom I think LAFC would jump at the opportunity to take.
That’s it. That’s 11 spots used and Drew Moor, Nicolas Hasler, Tosaint Ricketts and Jonathan Osorio are among those exposed.
Protected: Edwards, Zavaleta, Hagglund, Giovinco, Bradley, Altidore, Vazquez, Mavinga, Morrow, Delgado, Bono, Camargo, Chapman, Hamilton, Morgan, Spencer
How can you expose Moor?!
It’s an age and contract thing.
Make no mistake, I think Toronto would be taking a risk here: LAFC would surely take a close look at a centre-back of Moor’s quality.
But he remains unsigned beyond this season and I wonder if that may be with the expansion draft in mind.
If Toronto do not tie Moor - who has just welcomed a second child into his family - down to a new deal before the end of the season but know that he wants to stay, they could let LAFC pick him and then simply put a contract on the table to bring him straight back.
The only advantage LAFC would have is that they would be able to offer Moor a more substantial pay rise than Toronto, as per free agency rules, but I don’t see them doing that for a player who will be 34 in January.
Hasler might actually be the most significant risk given he is making noise in the league much earlier than was probably expected.
Toronto’s cards there are that it is still a small sample size at a position (wing-back) LAFC may not even use, and that he will want an increase in salary (I believe he is currently here on the league minimum) if he is to stick around in North America.
Bradley Sr. may know and have watched enough of TFC to still bite on a talented player, though.
Ricketts and Osorio would count as internationals south of the border but are certainly possibilities, too, while Beitashour is another free agent. Toronto won’t give him a $250,000 base salary again so he may play the field anyway, as was the case with Will Johnson last year.
As I see it, Hasler, Ricketts and Osorio are the players Toronto may be most likely to lose against their will.
The players to push to LA
I’m not sure if Armando Cooper is under contract beyond this season but if he is and there is any interest from LAFC, Toronto would not resist it and may even add a sweetener in the form of a chunk of allocation money to persuade them to take him over someone else.
The same probably applies for Irwin, though in his case Toronto may be able to find a club - like themselves back in 2016 - looking for a reliable goalkeeper that the Reds would probably offload for virtually nothing in return.
Otherwise, that’s about it. Jason Hernandez and Benoit Cheyrou aren’t going to be pushed into anything at this stage of their careers and are of limited attraction, and I don’t think Endoh has shown enough this year to be on LAFC’s radar.
There are certainly enough options here, though, for LAFC to at least coax some kind of compensation out of TFC for a player they want back, as Atlanta did last year.
Let’s hope MLS decides to throw a bit more cash at them and skip this whole process instead.
Exposed: Moor, Hasler, Ricketts, Osorio, Beitashour, Alseth, Cheyrou, Cooper, Endoh, Hernandez, Irwin, Pais